Hello, from the new coordinator!

Hello! My name is Marissa Berard (she/her), and I am the new coordinator for the Manitoba Important Bird Areas (IBA) Program. These are certainly big shoes to fill – Amanda contributed so much to this program and will certainly be missed! I love birds a lot, and feel very lucky to have the opportunity to be a part of this program and work alongside so many incredible volunteers. I am excited to not only keep learning about birds (truly a lifelong learning journey), but also to contribute to conserving important bird habitat through stewardship activities and outreach. 

I have been involved in the bird world for a while, both in terms of monitoring and public outreach. While working on my honours thesis (which focused on Atlantic cod) with Dr. Gail Davoren at the University of Manitoba, I was fortunate to spend two summers in Newfoundland and help out with a variety of seabird research, including with puffins, razorbills and common murres.

Puffins on a seabird island in Newfoundland (Photo by Marissa Berard).

After graduating, I worked at an environmental consulting company doing a variety of species at risk and avian monitoring including golden-winged warbler and grassland bird surveys. I then moved to Riding Mountain National Park to work with Parks Canada, first as an interpreter and then in the Resource Conservation department where I worked primarily with species at risk including Chimney Swifts and Red-headed Woodpeckers. Living near Riding Mountain has allowed me to spend a lot of time around the Proven Lake IBA, exploring the area both on foot and from a canoe.

The strawberry moon during an early morning June breeding bird survey (Photo by Marissa Berard).

While I absolutely love field work, I am also passionate about the outreach side of things. I love to give bird identification workshops and have done some volunteering with the FortWhyte Alive Birding & Breakfast program. One of the things I love about birding is that in many ways, it is a very accessible activity. Whether you are in downtown Winnipeg or out in the forest, there are birds around. I would love to create more opportunities for a variety of folks to get involved with the IBA program, and birding in general.  

As I recently shared on the MCSI website, my favourite bird of all-time (though my family and friends would argue that I have several of these), remains the black-capped chickadee. Though a common occurrence, I love the chickadee’s lively heartiness and deeply appreciate their perpetual presence on my cross-country ski outings during our long Manitoba winters, even on the coldest of days. 

A few other non-bird related things about me… In my spare time I love to hike and cross-country ski, do beadwork, play instruments and watch live music. My first language is French, and I am a proud Red River Métis with family ties to Saint-Boniface, Saint-Vital, and several other communities surrounding what is now Winnipeg.

I am very excited to be in this role and cannot wait to meet all of you!

Marissa

Upcoming volunteer opportunities!

We’ve got some exciting volunteer opportunities coming up! All experience levels welcome.

Purple Loosestrife Pull – Oak Hammock Marsh IBA

Come help protect valuable wetland and shorebird habitat! On Monday, Sept 5th we will be heading to Oak Hammock Marsh to remove invasive purple loosestrife. We will be meeting in the parking lot by the Discovery Centre at 10:00am and will head to the stand as a group. After the loosestrife pull, we will head over to the café for lunch. To sign up or for more information, email iba@naturemanitoba.ca.

Red-headed Woodpecker Blitz – Kinosota-Leifur IBA

On Saturday, September 10th, we will be blitzing the Kinosota-Leifur IBA in search of Red-headed Woodpeckers. We will begin at 8:00 am, and will meet up afterwards for a complimentary picnic lunch. All experience levels welcome. Carpooling from Brandon or Winnipeg may be able to be arranged. To sign up or for more information, email iba@naturemanitoba.ca.

Oak Lake Red-headed Woodpecker Blitz

On July 23rd, Manitoba IBA held a second Red-headed Woodpecker blitz for the month of July. Using predetermined birding areas and routes with past sightings marked, four groups headed down to the Oak Lake/ Plum Lakes IBA on what turned out to be a sunny and not too hot Saturday.

A Red-headed Woodpecker (Photo by Ariel Desrochers)

This was our first blitz down in Oak Lake for Red-headed Woodpeckers this year. Luckily we were able to do a blitz last summer in August, which provided us with a guide to areas in the IBA that may have the Woodpecker. We had eight people split into pairs to make up 4 groups, which meant we could cover a larger area of the IBA. Below is the overview of the routes explored during the blitz. The protocol for exploratory Red-headed Woodpecker surveys allows for responsible use of playback of their call, as long as the birder has a permit.

Not shown on the map is Group 4, made up of Amanda and Duane, who birded North of the No. 1 HWY which is an area that we have only briefly previously explored.

Possible Red-headed Woodpecker habitat north of the TransCanada. Unfortunately no Red-headed Woodpeckers were seen in this patch. (photo by Amanda Shave)

Group 1 was made up of Glennis and Sandy. During the blitz, they did not observe any Red-headed Woodpeckers. Once the event was over, they continued to bird and eventually came across one individual, so every group that day saw at least one at some point in the day. Exciting sightings for Group 1 included three Turkey Vultures, one Bobolink (a threatened species), and five Lark Sparrows.

Group 2 was made up of Gillian and Kathryn. Throughout the course of the event, they observed five Red-headed Woodpeckers. In addition to the woodpeckers, they identified a number of other species including some that were not identified by any other group. This includes a Wild Turkey and a White-faced Ibis. They also identified species such as an Eastern Wood Pee-wee, two Vesper Sparrows and Americans Goldfinches.

Group 3 was Wally and I (Ariel). We birded north of the Lake, starting on PR. 254. During our surveys, we saw a lot of suitable habitat for Red-headed Woodpeckers (fields with sparse standing dead trees) that turned up no sightings, including an area that had sightings the previous year. In the first hour or so, we were pleased to see a variety of waterfowl and some birds of prey. Eventually we managed to identify a Red-headed Woodpecker by its call after using our speaker to playback their sound. After that we managed to identify a few more for a total of seven for the day. Other Interesting birds we spotted that morning were a group of about 100 Franklins Gulls, Pied-billed Grebes, two Baltimore Orioles, and various birds of prey including, Red-tailed Hawks, Swainson’s Hawk and a Northern Harrier. We were also we fortunate enough to actually see a Sora, strutting across the road (most often Sora are identified by their distinctive “whinny” call, rather than seen).

A male Bobolink (Photo by Ariel Desrochers)

Group 4 was made up of Duane and Amanda. While birding a less visited area of the IBA, they observed a wide variety of birds. Last year Glennis explored this area during out 2021 Red-headed Woodpecker Blitz. She noted some good habitat, but had no luck seeing individuals. Duane and Amanda came across several of the good habitat areas pointed out by Glennis this year. It was only going down a two-track dirt and grass road (thanks to Duane’s truck!) that we were able to get a Red-headed Woodpecker sighting! This is a first for our IBA blitzes in this area, and we will have to keep searching in this area for upcoming blitzes as well. Some of their other interesting sightings include Cedar Waxwings, one Common Merganser, many Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers including recently fledged young (which they thought would be their only woodpecker species of the day for most of the survey time), an Orchard Oriole, and a Brown Thrasher.

A great shot of a Red-headed Woodpecker by Duane Diehl
Two Black Terns (Photo by Ariel Desrochers)
Refueling after the blitz, and trying on our snazzy Manitoba IBA hats (Photo by Amanda Shave)

Around noon, the groups met up at the Oak Lake marina for a snack and to share our sightings for the day. We had a total of 13 Redheaded Woodpeckers seen during the blitz. Around 1:00 pm, we set off back to Winnipeg while Groups 1 and 2 continued to bird for fun (and to try and find more Red-headed Woodpeckers). A summary of all the species identified can be found below. We saw a total of 82 species (plus woodpecker sp. and sparrow sp.) and a total of 1,023 individuals. Thank you to our Duane Diehl, Gillian Richards, Kathryn Hyndman, Glennis Lewis, Sandy Hominick and Wally Jansen for making the drive down and blitzing with Amanda and I!

Species Number of Individuals
American Coot4
American Crow16
American Goldfinch 25
American Kestrel10
American Robin17
American White Pelican 24
Baltimore Oriole4
Barn Swallow29
Black Tern55
Black-billed Magpie15
Black-capped Chickadee4
Blue Jay6
Blue-winged Teal7
Bobolink13
Brewer’s Blackbird10
Brown Thrasher2
Brown-headed Cowbird2
Canada Goose1
Canvasback2
Cedar Waxwing18
Chipping Sparrow1
Clay-colored Sparrow11
Cliff Swallow1
Common Grackle20
Common Merganser1
Common Raven10
Common Yellowthroat 6
Eastern Bluebird1
Eastern Kingbird32
Eastern Wood-Pewee1
European Starling1
Forster’s Tern2
Franklin’s Gull115
Gadwall9
Gray Catbird4
Great Blue Heron1
Horned Lark1
House Sparrow10
House Wren 31
Killdeer4
Lark Sparrow13
Least Flycatcher 14
Lesser Scaup7
Mallard63
Marbled Godwit 2
Marsh Wren 1
Merlin1
Mourning Dove37
Nelson’s Sparrow1
Northern Flicker11
Northern Harrier2
Northern Shoveler1
Northern Waterthrush 1
Orchard Oriole 1
Pied-billed Grebe 6
Purple Martin1
Red-eyed Vireo 2
Redhead1
Red-headed Woodpecker13
Red-necked Grebe2
Red-tailed Hawk6
Red-winged Blackbird94
Ring-billed Gull2
Ring-necked Duck1
Rock Pigeon 4
Ruddy Duck3
Savannah Sparrow12
Sedge Wren 3
Song Sparrow21
Sora10
Sparrow sp. 34
Swainson’s Hawk2
Tree Swallow27
Turkey Vulture26
Vesper Sparrow3
Western Kingbird5
Western Meadowlark29
White-faced Ibis1
Wild Turkey 2
Wilson’s Snipe9
Woodpecker sp. 1
Yellow Warbler9
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker10
Yellow-headed Blackbird5
Total Number of Individuals 1,023

Spring 2022 International Shorebird Survey Roundup

This spring, volunteers and the staff of Manitoba IBA headed out to once again conduct International Shorebird Surveys at four IBAs: Oak Hammock Marsh; the North, East and West Shoal Lakes; Oak/Plum Lakes; and Whitewater Lake. Last year, dry weather altered the preferred habitat of shorebirds and this year was the same, although instead of dried up wetlands and ditches, flooded fields and higher water levels were the norm, creating an interesting survey period.

An Upland Sandpiper (Photo by Amanda Shave)

The Spring International Shorebird Surveys (ISS) are conducted between April 1st and June 15th with the peak of the season occurring between April 24th and May 16th. Using our protocol (adapted from the ISS Protocol from Manomet), four IBAs are surveyed, with a number of routes to cover. Whitewater Lake has 4 routes on the east side of the lake, 3 on the west side and one stationary route. Oak Lake has 5 routes, 2 of which are stationary. Oak Hammock Marsh has 3 routes, although one was not assessable this year due to high water levels. Finally, the North, East and West Shoal Lakes has 4 routes. Each route at each location is normally monitored three times in the spring. While all species observed should be recorded under ISS protocol lists, only shorebirds are included in the data. Some surveys that were completed for ISS did not contain any shorebird sightings, so while a site may have been monitored a number of times, the surveys with actual shorebird sightings may be less. All four locations are summarized below:

Oak Hammock Marsh

Species Total # of Individuals Proportion (%) of Individuals
Killdeer23
Marbled Godwit610
Willet 812.90
Wilson’s Phalarope4674.19
Total 62100
Total # of Species4
Based on 6 surveys

The results from Oak hammock Marsh show us the contrast between this spring and last spring. This year, only four species were identified during the ISS period. The number of individuals amongst those species is also much lower than spring 2021.

Route 1 and Route 2 were surveyed once during this period and the shorebird scrape was monitored twice. Route 3, the Teal Dike, became flooded and collapsed so it was not assessable to monitor. Overall the high water levels would most likely have affected the habitat for shorebirds, thus the lower numbers.

West, East and North Shoal Lakes

SpeciesTotal # of IndividualsProportion (%) of Individuals
American Avocet1222
Greater Yellowlegs 24
Killdeer1324
Shorebird sp. 47
Lesser Yellowlegs12
Marbled Godwit 59
Spotted Sandpiper11.82
Whimbrel 610.91
Willet 712.73
Wilson’s Phalarope47.27
Total 55100
Total # of Species 10
Based on 10 Surveys

Shoal Lakes was surveyed 14 times over the spring ISS period. It is important to note that multiple routes can be surveyed on one day. Route 1 was surveyed five times, route 2 was surveyed twice, route 3 was surveyed once, route 4 was surveyed five times and the stationary “Campground” point was surveyed three times.

Oak/Plum Lakes

SpeciesTotal # of IndividualsProportion (%) of Individuals
American Avocet23
Killdeer1723
Least Sandpiper11
Marbled Godwit 45
Pectoral Sandpiper11
Spotted Sandpiper1013.33
Willet912
Wilson’s Phalarope3040
Wilson’s Snipe11.33
Total75100
Total # of Species9
Based on 6 surveys

Oak Lake has rive shorebird routes, including two that are stationary (route 3 and 5). Of these routes, route 1 was surveyed twice, route 2 was surveyed twice, route 3 and route 4 were surveyed once. Flooding over a low spot in the access road meant that Route 5 (a small wetland), was not able to be surveyed. In total, volunteers visited the IBA to surveyed six times.

Whitewater Lake

SpeciesTotal # of Individuals Proportion (%) of Individuals
American Avocet333
Baird’s Sandpiper374
Dunlin61
Greater Yellowlegs 10
Hudsonian Godwit 152
Killdeer141.47
Least Sandpiper30.31
Lesser Yellowlegs 232.41
Marbled Godwit 50.52
Pectoral Sandpiper151.57
Peep sp. 666.92
Red Necked Phalarope 31533.02
Ruddy Turnstone30.31
Sanderling40.42
Semipalmated Sandpiper 16617.40
Shorebird sp. 101.05
Short-billed Dowitcher10.10
Spotted Sandpiper30.31
White-rumped Sandpiper17618.45
Stilt Sandpiper70.73
Willet151.57
Wilson’s Phalarope353.67
Wilson’s Snipe10.10
Total954100
Total # of Species23
Based on 10 Surveys

Whitewater Lake was visited by volunteers to survey 14 times in total. Sexton’s point, the only stationary route, was surveyed three times. On the west side of the Lake, route W1 was surveyed three times, route W2 was surveyed six times and route W3 was surveyed twice. On the east side of the lake, each route was monitored once due to wet conditions and dirt roads.

Based on these summaries, it is clear that the wet weather Manitoba has experienced this spring affected the ISS monitoring season. All four IBAs showed numbers inconsistent with previous years and there was much less variety in the shorebird species observed. Like last year, Whitewater Lake had the highest counts for shorebirds of the four IBAs but the number was greatly reduced. We have several hypothesis as to why this might be, but of course we do not know for certain. Perhaps it is possible that migratory shorebirds were simply staying in areas where it was less wet, possibly areas across the border in Saskatchewan, as the IBAs all had much higher water levels that the previous year. Or if the shorebirds were in Manitoba, perhaps they were spread over the higher-than-normal number of ephemeral (temporary) wetlands spread across the landscape this year, instead of clustering at our usual shorebird “hotspots”. If weather is indeed influencing numbers of shorebirds, It will be interesting to see what the Fall ISS period brings, and then next spring.

Another thing to consider is volunteer “effort”. Of course our volunteers put in a lot of effort to go out and count shorebirds, but effort also has a meaning scientifically as well. Ideally when comparing between years we want to amount of effort to be standardized as much as possible. For example, going out to survey for 5 hours on three different mornings (15 hours of “effort”) will likely net you more birds than surveying for five hours on one morning (5 hours of “effort”). Our big disruptor of effort this year was the residual snow late into the spring, wet road conditions (on dirt roads), and/or collapsed dikes. While trying to survey each route three times in the spring is important, volunteer safety and safe route access is more important.

Once again, summaries like this are possible because of the time and effort of volunteers, so thank you to everyone who went out and monitored this spring! A big thank you to Glennis Lewis, Tim Poole and Ansley Woods for surveying at Oak Lake; Gillian Richards for surveying at Oak Lake and Whitewater Lake, Duane Diehl and Tom and Renee Will for surveying at Whitewater Lake; Bonnie Chartier, Mike Karakas, Tami Reynolds for surveying at Oak Hammock Marsh and the Shoal Lakes; and Jo Swartz and Jan Bradley for surveying at the Shoal Lakes.

If you are interested in volunteering for our fall International Shorebird Surveys, we are looking for volunteers! Believe it or not, we are already in the fall ISS survey period, which runs until October 25th, 2022. Email iba@naturemanitoba.ca for more information.

-Ariel

What’s in a name? The Red-headed Woodpecker

On July 9th we headed out to the North, East and West Shoal Lakes to blitz for the Red-headed Woodpecker. Red-headed Woodpeckers were seen by all and a great lunch was eaten afterwards with friends – couldn’t ask for a better day!

We last ran a blitz for Red-headed Woodpeckers in the North, East and West Shoal Lakes IBA in 2020, which was coincidently the first blitz we ran after COVID-19 had started. In 2021 we established Red-headed Woodpecker survey routes, but were unable to run an event to trial them due to COVID once again! The routes were instead trialed by volunteers who went out birding singly or with people from their “bubbles”. This year we finally were able to run the survey routes as intended at Shoal Lakes and they seemed to work quite well. Of course, when we run a bird blitz we record all species that we see, so in addition to photos of the very charismatic Red-headed Woodpecker we also have many other beautiful birds to document in this blog.

As some of you already know the Red-headed Woodpecker is an Endangered species under the federal Species at Risk Act and a Threatened species under our provincial act – which is why we were out to try and gather populations numbers within this IBA. Since the same survey routes were run last year (following the same methods), the intention is to be able to compare numbers between years to see if there is an increase, a decrease, or if they stay the same in this local area.

With the Red-headed Woodpecker survey, volunteers drove along a pre-set 20 km route, stopping in areas of good habitat for this species. Good Red-headed Woodpecker habitat includes open areas with little understory vegetation, with standing dead trees (called snags). Common places for habitat in the Shoal Lakes IBA tends to be woodlots or cattle pastures with a mix of living aspen, and snags. Cattle grazing and/or mowing keeps the understory short. Once beside good habitat volunteers first looked and listened for Red-headed Woodpeckers for two minutes. If nothing was seen they then conducted playback (playing the territorial “querr” or “tchur” call to attract the woodpeckers) for 30 seconds before looking and listening for another two minutes. The coordinates of all Red-headed Woodpeckers seen or heard were recorded. To ensure we were not double counting individuals, we stopped every 300m in good habitat.

An example of good Red-headed Woodpecker habitat. Photo by Amanda Shave.

Group 1 consisted of our fantastic husband and wife duo of Katharine and John Schulz, as well as Al Mickey. Al was one of our Red-headed Woodpecker survey route testers in 2021, so he knew all about our methods. They covered the western side of the Shoal Lakes. Unfortunately, this group was the least successful with the Red-headed Woodpeckers, with one individual spotted. That being said, they still saw a total of 50 species, so the west side of Shoal Lakes was still hopping with birds! Of particular note was a group of eight Great Egrets that were spotted roosting in a tree. While we often see egrets and herons foraging in wetlands and waterbodies, they actually nest and roost in trees. So next time you are on the lookout for this group of birds, perhaps look up! They also recorded two Barn Swallows, another Species at Risk.

Great Egret in a tree. Photo by Katharine Schulz.
Common Goldeye with young. Photo by Katharine Schulz.

Group 2 consisted of Nelson, Jody and Paul and they covered the Red-headed Woodpecker route at the south end of the Shoal Lakes IBA. This group observed two pairs of Red-headed Woodpeckers (four individuals total) during their survey. For other Species at Risk, this group also counted four Barn Swallows. Not to be left behind on Group 1’s Great Egret sightings, Group 2 had 17 Great Egrets – the North, East and West Shoal Lakes is a “great” place to spot them! Group 2 also recorded a Great-crested Flycatcher, a couple of Brown Thrashers and an Orchard Oriole, all species less commonly reported birds for this IBA. This was also the first IBA blitz for all three group members, so a big welcome to all three and I am glad they had such a great variety of sightings.

Male Common Yellowthroat. Photo by Katharine Schulz.

Group 3 consisted of Garry Budyk and Rudolf Koes. They had specifically asked to be in the northwest corner of the IBA – their traditional Shoal Lakes blitz area! Garry and Rudolf saw five Red-headed Woodpeckers on their official survey route and three woodpeckers outside of their survey route (but still in their assigned blitz area). Two of the woodpeckers were drumming (usually a territorial behaviour) one woodpecker was carrying food – mostly likely to bring back to the nest for the next generation of Red-headed Woodpeckers, and another two were seen using a cavity.

Red-headed Woodpecker on a fence post (the post was a tree in it’s former life, right?) Photo by Garry Budyk.

Garry and Rudolf saw a number of other bird species of course including a variety of waterfowl (Green-wing Teal, Redhead, Canvasback, Ring-necked Duck, Lesser Scaup, Bufflehead, Hooded Merganser and Ruddy Duck). They also saw several species of grebes including the Pie-billed Grebe, Red-necked Grebe and Western Grebe. Grebes were not our focus on this blitz, but we have conducted blitzes for Western Grebes at the Shoal Lakes IBA in the past. A few other Species at Risk were also noted including 11 Barn Swallows, two Bobolink, and a Least Bittern. Other notable species included one Brown Thrasher, one Chestnut-sided Warbler, two Nelson’s Sparrows, three Great-Crested Flycatchers and 48 Black Terns.

Least Bittern peeking out from the reeds. Photo by Rudolf Koes.
Young grebe. Photo by Garry Budyk.

Finally we have Group 4, which birded along the east side of the Shoal Lakes. This group consisted of myself (Amanda) and three new birders to the IBA Program, Amrita, Sukh and Karen. It was their first time out for an IBA event, so a big welcome to Amrita, Sukh and Karen as well! During out Red-headed Woodpecker survey we had two sets of pairs seen. One pair was tracked down heading into a nest cavity. With the frequency of entries and exits it seemed like the pair was feeding young.

Parental exchange between a pair of nesting Red-headed Woodpeckers. The active cavity can be seen on the same tree as the perching individual. Photo by Amanda Shave.

While transiting from one area of good woodpecker habitat to the next, we passed between the Shoal Lakes on Provincial Road 415. Here we came across several species of marsh birds including a cluster of approximately 56 Forster’s Terns all foraging in the same wetland pond area, three Great Egrets, and a variety of waterfowl such as Blue-winged Teal, Green-Winged Teal, Ruddy Ducks, Red-necked Grebes, Western Grebes and more. Nearby a wet meadow our driving also alerted a pair of Marbled Godwit and Killdeer who were probably nesting in the area based on their behaviour. In the same area we also recorded a male Bobolink sitting on the powerlines.

Forster’s Tern taking a break from foraging. Photo by Amanda Shave.

After finishing our Red-headed Woodpecker route, we had a bit of time before we needed to meet up for lunch, and we were able to get two more pairs of Red-headed Woodpeckers outside of our formal survey area. Group 4 had a total of nine Red-headed Woodpeckers.

Another former-tree providing perching habitat for one half of a Red-headed Woodpecker pair. Photo by Amanda Shave.

At noon we all met in Inwood for lunch at Rosie’s Cafe and a debrief! It was a busy morning with a total of 23 Red-headed Woodpeckers seen! This exceeds the IBA threshold of 14 Red-headed Woodpeckers (1% of the Canada-wide population for this species) once again this year. The high concentration of Red-headed Woodpeckers in this IBA continues to indicate the important habitat that exists in this area of the province for this Endangered Species. In total we saw 2552 individual birds, made of of 103 species. Thank you to all of the volunteers who came out to blitz the North, East and West Shoal Lakes!

SpeciesCount
American Bittern4
American Coot14
American Crow30
American Goldfinch 26
American Kestrel22
American Redstart 4
American Robin19
American White Pelican 10
American Wigeon2
Bald Eagle5
Baltimore Oriole11
Barn Swallow9
Barn Swallow11
Black Tern109
Black-and-white Warbler1
Black-billed Magpie 19
Black-capped Chickadee3
Black-crowned Night-Heron1
Blue Jay2
Blue-winged Teal22
Bobolink 6
Brewer’s Blackbird15
Broad-winged Hawk1
Brown Thrasher 4
Brown-headed Cowbird46
Bufflehead1
Canada Goose 5
Canvasback2
Cedar Waxwing8
Chestnut-sided Warbler1
Chipping Sparrow3
Clay-colored Sparrow89
Common Goldeneye1
Common Grackle 76
Common Raven 19
Common Yellowthroat 107
Cooper’s Hawk1
Double-crested Cormorant 1
Downey Woodpecker1
Eastern Kingbird30
European Starling40
Forster’s Tern67
Franklin’s Gull51
Gadwall 11
Gray Catbird17
Great Blue Heron5
Great Crested Flycatcher 4
Great Egret 44
Greater Yellowlegs 2
Green-winged Teal64
Hooded Merganser2
House Sparrow5
House Wren61
Killdeer16
Least Bittern2
Least Flycatcher52
LeConte’s Sparrow1
Lesser Scaup1
Lesser Yellowlegs1
Mallard38
Marbled Godwit4
Marsh Wren44
Merlin3
Mourning Dove41
Nelson’s Sparrow2
Northern Flicker13
Northern Harrier4
Northern Pintail10
Northern Shoveler62
Orchard Oriole2
Pied-billed Grebe11
Pileated Woodpecker1
Purple Martin1
Red-eyed Vireo26
Redhead23
Red-headed Woodpecker23
Red-necked Grebe3
Red-tailed Hawk7
Red-winged Blackbird327
Ring-billed Gull8
Ring-necked Duck15
Rose-breasted Grosbeak2
Ruby-throated Hummingbird1
Ruddy Duck5
Sandhill Crane10
Savannah Sparrow54
Sedge Wren29
Sharp-tailed Grouse5
Song Sparrow64
Sora65
Swamp Sparrow10
Tree Swallow24
Turkey Vulture4
Veery14
Warbling Vireo33
Western Grebe8
Western Meadowlark106
White-throated Sparrow1
Wilson’s Snipe52
Woodpecker sp.1
Yellow Warbler80
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker3
Yellow-headed Blackbird134
Yellow-throated Vireo3
Total Individuals2552
Total Species Identified103

-Amanda

Down South – 2022 Grassland Bird Blitz

For our second event southwestern Manitoba, we set out with a small group of volunteers on the morning of Sunday, June 19th for our first grassland bird blitz in 3 years. We birded the Southwestern Manitoba Mixed Grass Prairie IBA from dawn to high noon in search of grassland Species at Risk.

Sun rising over the prairie. Photo by Ariel Desrochers.

For the Grassland Survey, we were 4 groups covering 4 different areas of the IBA. All groups were on the road by 5:30 am, the earlier the better for grassland birds. Below is a map of the areas in which each group was assigned.

We were watching birds, little did we know, we were also being watched. Photo by Amanda Shave.

Group 2, which was comprised of Jackie and I, covered the region just southeast of Melita. The songbirds on our route were loud in the morning and easily identifiable by both sight and ear. The only target species we were able to identify was the Bobolink, but we saw a number of other interesting birds including a Say’s Phoebe, which Jackie was surprised to see. I was pleased to see my first Horned Lark. In addition to the bird species, we also came upon a group of six jackrabbits, which I initially misidentified as a small gathering of Canada Geese from afar.

Wilson’s Snipe. Photo by Ariel Desrochers.
Loggerhead Shrike. Photo by Melanie Rose.

Amanda was alone as Group 4 and covered the Poverty Plains area. She identified Grasshopper Sparrows and Baird’s Sparrows from our target species. While on route, she encountered a large stick nest up in a tree. Initially she could not identify the two young raptors in the nest due to the distance. After looking closely at the photo afterwards realized they were Ferruginous Hawks, which is very exciting as they are only found in the southwest and are uncommon.

It didn’t take long for the prairie to heat up and by 9:00 am, the land had become relatively quiet. My partner headed home early and I later joined with Amanda for the second half of the morning, and we were pleased to identify more of our target species, including Grasshopper Sparrows, Bobolinks, and a Loggerhead Shrike! Seeing the Loggerhead Shrike was a first for both of us. We had heard one the day before on our community grassland bird walk near Melita, but had not seen it. Amanda had another interesting find for us was an unknown male and female songbird perched on a fence. After flipping through our bird guide, we identified the pair as Orchard Orioles. By the end of the morning, it had become very hot and the only birds we were seeing and hearing were Brown-headed Cowbirds, so we decided to wrap up and head back to Melita.

Look closely to see the Male Orchard Oriole on the fence wire. Photo by Ariel Desrochers.

Group 3 was comprised of Melanie and Katharine. They birded the area southwest of Melita and along the Saskatchewan border. From our target species, they were able to identify Grasshopper Sparrows, Bobolinks, a Loggerhead Shrike and Sprague’s Pipit. Origianlly they also had a photo of a mystery bird on a wire – but a photo came through once again – it was a female Chestnut-collared Longspur. Much trickier to identify than the flashy males! Besides those, some of the other interesting species to note were Horned Larks, a Red-tailed Hawk and Sandhill Cranes.

Group 1, Ken and Colleen, birded closer to Melita itself and including in the Broomhill and Blind Souris areas. For our target species, they observed Bobolinks, Grasshopper Sparrows and the Sprague’s Pipit. They also identified two Ferruginous Hawks. Other interesting species that they identified was a White-faced Ibis, Green-winged Teal and a Broad-winged Hawk.

Eastern Kingbird in a moment of quiet. Photo by Amanda Shave.

After around 6 hours of birding, we met up at the Melita Chicken Chef for lunch and discussed what we had seen over much needed glasses of water and cups of coffee (and air conditioning). After lunch we were on our way home, just in time to avoid some wild weather and tornado warnings!

An Upland Sandpiper striking a pose. Photo by Amanda Shave.

We want to thank our volunteers Katharine, Colleen, Ken, Melanie and Jackie for joining us in the southwest for our Grassland Bird Blitz! A complete table with all the species observed by each group and some additional images can be found below.

Willet (perhaps trying to mimic the classic Upland Sandpiper pose). Photo by Amanda Shave.
A Yellow-headed Blackbird in the middle of belting out his song. Photo by Amanda Shave.
The mysterious bird captured by Katharine and Melanie – turned out to be a female Chestnut-collared Longspur. Photo by Katharine Schulz.
Swainson’s Hawk. Photo by Amanda Shave.

For our target grassland species at risk we had 1 Chestnut-collared Longspurs, 4 Ferruginous Hawks, 2 Baird’s Sparrows, 4 Loggerhead Shrikes, 14 Bobolinks, at 3 Sprague’s Pipits. We also had 11 Grasshopper Sparrows, which are not currently a Species at Risk, but whose numbers are declining. In total we counted 80 species and 1472 individuals.

Species Count
American Bittern2
American Coot2
American Crow 6
American Goldfinch 3
American Robin 6
American Wigeon X
Baird’s Sparrow2
Baltimore Oriole 1
Barn Swallow19
Black Tern5
Black-billed Magpie 4
Blue-winged Teal 32
Bobolink14
Brewer’s Blackbird12
Brown Thrasher 4
Brown-headed Cowbird133
Buteo sp. 1
Cedar Waxwing6
Chestnut-colored Longspur 1
Clay-colored Sparrow67
Cliff Swallow26
Common Grackle 4
Common Yellowthroat 19
Double-crested Cormorant X
Eastern Kingbird71
Ferruginous Hawk4
Franklin’s Gull 9
Gadwall6
Grasshopper Sparrow11
Gray Catbird2
Green-winged Teal 1
Great Blue Heron1
Hairy Woodpecker1
Horned Lark 10
House Sparrow18
House Wren 27
Killdeer14
Least Flycatcher 16
Lesser Yellowlegs1
Loggerhead Shrike4
Mallard31
Marbled Godwit8
Marsh Wren 1
Mourning Dove44
Northern Flicker1
Northern Harrier2
Northern Pintail 18
Northern Shoveler 20
Orchard Oriole 2
Redhead6
Red-tailed Hawk4
Red-wing Blackbird369
Ring-billed Gull1
Ring-necked Pheasant 1
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)3
Ruddy Duck 1
Sandhill Crane 6
Say’s Phoebe 1
Sedge Wren 10
Sharp-tailed Grouse 2
Shorebird sp. 2
Snow Goose X
Sprague’s Pipit 3
Song Sparrow 4
Sora 13
Swainson’s Hawk2
Tree Swallow 1
Upland Sandpiper24
Vesper Sparrow27
Warbling Vireo5
Western Kingbird7
Western Meadowlark 104
White-faced Ibis X
Willet 11
Wilson’s Phalarope 8
Wilson’s Snipe24
Yellow Warbler 17
Yellow-headed Blackbird76
Savannah Sparrow46
Grand total1472
“X” indicates that the bird was present in the survey but a count was not taken

Community Grassland Bird Walk

Over the weekend, Amanda and I traveled to the southwest to visit the Southwestern Mixed Grass Prairie IBA. While there, we held two events, a bird walk through the Gerald W. Malaher Wildlife Management Area, and an early morning grassland bird blitz the next day. It was a scorcher in the Banana Belt that weekend but we still managed to see some really interesting birds, many of which can only be found in that part of the province!

Dragonflies. Photo by Ariel Desrochers.

The weekend began for us with the long drive down on Friday from Winnipeg to Melita. We spent the afternoon scoping out the Gerald W. Malaher Wildlife Management Area (WMA), the site of our bird walk the next day, while discussing birds we might see that weekend. We were particularly interested in the grassland birds. We were excited to hear a Loggerhead Shrike, but did not see it. We retired for the evening to a local farmhouse with a ton of character, exhausted from the drive.

Saturday morning we made our way back to the WMA for our event. We were a small group that morning, and the wind was strong, but luckily the WMA is partially grassland and partially forested habitat, so we had some protection! We were lucky enough to have participants who were knowledgeable in butterflies and plants so the walk ended up being a morning full of learning about all things nature. Our first observation was Yellow Warblers, whose call of “sweet, sweet, I’m so sweet” we described to the group and using our guidebook to show their lovely yellow coloring. As we followed the shorter loop of the WMA, we saw variety of birds including Mourning Doves, Redheads, Cedar Waxwings and more. We were delighted to see Monarch Butterflies, and were surrounded by what must have been thousands of Dragonflies, leaving mosquitos nowhere to be found. At the end of our walk we heard a Ring-neck Pheasant call. The pheasant is a game bird introduced into the southwest from Asia. One of our participants, Daniel, informed us that he often found them in ditches near the WMA. After the walk had finished myself, Amanda and Sandy hurried off to try and find it. We had a brief moment of possible success – turns out it was a “piece of metal on a fence” bird. The rare cousin of the “leaf bird” and the “garbage bird” that like to play tricks on birders. We ended up unsuccessful.

Cedar Waxwings. Photo by Ariel Desrochers.
Monarch Butterfly. Photo by Ariel Desrochers.

Thank you again to the group who joined us for our bird walk! We identified 15 different species of birds, and 57 individuals. The full lists of birds identified during the walk can be found below.

SpeciesCount
Blue-winged Teal1
Redhead 2
Ring-necked Pheasant1
Mourning Dove4
American White Pelican 7
Least Flycatcher 3
Eastern Kingbird3
Loggerhead Shrike1
House Wren 5
Cedar Waxwing14
Clay-colored Sparrow3
Red-winged Blackbird4
Brown-headed Cowbird2
Common Yellowthroat 1
Yellow Warbler 6

-Ariel Desrocher

What’s in the Water? – Whitewater Lake Blitz

On June 4th the Manitoba IBA Program held our first blitz of the 2022 season! After a spring of rocky weather we ended up with a great day to observe a wide variety of birds.

A photogenic Bobolink singing its heart out with Whitewater Lake in the background. Photo by Randy Mooi.

We had five groups of volunteers head out to Whitewater Lake to start birding around 8:30 am and finish up with lunch at Sexton’s Point at 12:30 pm. If you think back to the end of May and beginning of June, we had been receiving a lot of rain. So while the weather was great, we had to be somewhat careful of road conditions, especially on the dirt roads. Probably unsurprising to everyone, the water levels at Whitewater Lake were quite high compared to last year (last year was unusually dry). We were hoping that would help to increase the number of birds we would see on our blitz!

An Upland Sandpiper (left) and Grey Partridge (right). Photos by Randy Mooi.

Normally we would head out to a Whitewater Blitz concentrating on shorebirds. During pre-blitz scouting and International Shorebird Surveys we were expecting shorebirds to be thin on the ground this year (not just at Whitewater Lake, but this pattern was seen across southern Manitoba). We are not entirely sure why this has happened, but we had a few hypotheses. Perhaps this was due to a late arrival with our unseasonably cold conditions? Perhaps it was due large amount of water across the landscape providing a lot of habitat, and meaning the shorebirds were more spread out this year? For that reason while we did run routes suitable for shorebirds, we were also recording a wider variety of species.

Wilson’s Phalaropes. In contrast to most other birds, the female Wilson Phalarope is more colourful than the male. Photo by Josh Dewitt.

The south side of the lake was the domain of Group 1. This included Randy and Odette Mooi making their way from the east side of the south end of the lake, and Colin Blyth making his way from the west side of the south end of the lake. The two groups met in the middle of the south side.

Randy and Odette saw a nice variety of shorebirds and other species as well. Near the beginning of their morning they picked out our only Black-crowned Night Heron, Great Crested Flycatcher, Orchard Oriole and Belted Kingfisher of the day. They also counted 13 Bobolink over the course of their morning. They also had relatively high counts (for the day) of White-rumped Sandpipers (200+), Pectoral Sandpipers (30), Sanderling (51), and Semipalmated Sandpiper (40).

A group of White-rumped Sandpipers feeding. Photo by Randy Mooi.
An orphaned Western Meadowlark egg, perhaps dropped by a predator? Photo by Randy Mooi.

On the west side of the lake Group 2, composed of Gillian Richards, Duane Diehl, and Tom and Renee Wills. Their area included west of the lake, south of road 20N and the area nearby to Deloraine. This included the western International Shorebird Survey routes. This group saw a lot of large numbers of our shorebirds on their first ISS including 39 Semipalmated Sandpipers, 75 White-rumped Sandpipers, 17 American Avocets and 4 Stilt Sandpipers. The second ISS route also netted them a good variety of shorebirds, but in smaller numbers. They saw Killdeer, Stilt Sandpipers, Sanderling, Baird’s Sandpiper, White-rumped Sandpiper, Pectoral Sandpiper, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Wilson’s Phalarope, Red-necked Phalarope and Spotted Sandpiper. They also saw a Red-headed Woodpecker – not often a species associated with Whitewater Lake.

Group 2 was a bit late joining up with us for lunch, but with good reason! They wanted to finish up the 3rd of the ISS routes in the west. The highlight here was not a shorebird, but a single Greater White-fronted Goose and a White-faced Ibis, among other birds.

Cowbirds are considered a bit of a menace by some people due to their parasitic nature of abandoning their eggs in the nests of other birds to be raised. It is a completely different way of reproducing to other birds in Manitoba and it works well for them. Photo by Josh Dewitt.

The north side of the lake was the domain of Mike Karakas and Tami Reynolds. They surveyed all along the road that runs along the north (Highway 48 and mile road 20N). Some highlights from Mike and Tami include a nice variety of shorebirds including 31 Black-bellied Plovers, 3 Ruddy Turnstones, 3 Semi-palmated Sandpipers and a Dunlin. These species were on a marshy area on the way out to their survey site (my group later stopped here too, don’t worry, we didn’t double count!).

Despite it being a bit late in the year (perhaps because of our weather) Mike and Tami also counted 106 Snow Geese in both the white and blue colour morphs. They also picked up a Bobolink, Grey Partridge, and Eastern Towhee on the first part of their route. On the second part of their route interesting finds were 15 Stilt Sandpipers, a few more Snow Geese, and four Ruddy Ducks. As they arrived in the western portion of their route Mike and Tami saw a further four Bobolinks, two Black Terns and fair numbers of White-rumped (31) and Baird’s Sandpipers (45). They also had a Canada Jay – not the habitat I typically think of!

Eared Grebes on Whitewater Lake. Photo by Randy Mooi.

Myself, Josh Dewitt, Melanie Rose and Laura met up in Boissevain and surveyed the area on the east side of the lake, largely following the three International Shorebird Survey routes. Our area included both walking and car birding. The dirt tracks on our side of the IBA were luckily all dried up, and the small rental car that replaced the SUV I was supposed to have handled the uneven roads like a champ. At our first stop we actually ran into Mike and Tami who had stopped at a particularly lucrative wetland area on their way out to their route. We were able to spot three Red Knots blending into the stubble at the far side of the wetland. It turns out that Red Knots haven’t been seen at Whitewater Lake for several years, and it lead to several people going back to this spot after lunch to try and spot them again (with success!). At the same spot we also picked up 30 Baird’s Sandpipers and 40 Least Sandpipers.

Josh and Melanie on the hunt for shorebirds. Photo by Amanda Shave.

Along the first ISS route we picked up 85 Semipalmated Sandpiper and a Bobolink. For our second ISS route the highlight was a group of 35 Baird’s Sandpipers. Our last ISS route yield a group of 60 peeps who flew around and eventually landed on a mud flat way too far out for identification with scopes, much to our frustration. Luckily we got to see a few charismatic birds to make up for it including two American Avocet, three Northern Pintails, a Great Egret and a Baltimore Oriole.

An American Avocet in full breeding plumage. The head and neck colouration usually draws the most attention but note the interesting blue legs as well. Photo by Josh Dewitt.
A Thirteen-Lined Ground Squirrel that kept popping up while my group was surveying for birds at the edge of a track out to the lake. I think it was anxious for us to be moving on! Photo my Josh Dewitt.

After all had gathered at Sexton’s Point were did a bit more birding as we ate our sandwiches. Here we spotted a further 93 Snow Geese out on Sexton’s Island, two Ruddy Turnstones, as well as two Sanderlings. The Sanderlings are an interesting species. For most shorebirds the breeding plumage is the easier plumage for identification, but for Sanderlings their non-breeding plumage is much more unique. These individuals were in their breeding plumage, so there was bit of debate before this ID was settled on with confidence.

Scoping, recording and eating – so much happening here! Lunch time at Sexton’s Point. Photo by Amanda Shave.

All in all, we saw 105 species, with over 3000 individual birds counted. The most numerous species was the White-rumped sandpiper with 325+ individuals counted (although not everyone counted each individual Red-winged Blackbird, so they may have had the sandpipers beat). Thank you everyone for a great day out at Whitewater Lake!

Full bird list for June 4th at Whitewater Lake:

SpeciesCount
Snow Goose209
Canada Goose 137
Blue-winged Teal122
Northern Shoveler 153
Mallard 101
Gadwall 67
Northern Pintail 27
Ruddy Duck29
Lesser Scaup 6
Black-crowned Night Heron1
American Avocet46
Black-bellied Plover 36
Killdeer 32
Ruddy Turnstone7
Dunlin10
Semipalmated Sandpiper130
Wilson’s Phalarope 51
Willet25
Red-Winged Blackbird249+
Yellow-headed blackbird58
Brown-headed Cowbird69
Green Winged Teal 2
Canvasback 38
Redhead 20
Hooded Merganser 3
Eared Grebe23
Mourning Dove 29
Sora15
American Coot21
Stilt Sandpiper 22
Sanderling 55
White-rumped Sandpiper325+
Pectoral Sandpiper40
Shorebird sp. 10
Black Tern4
Double-crested Cormorant3
American White Pelican 34
Bald Eagle 1
Western Kingbird6
Eastern Kingbird30
Horned Lark 19
Barn Swallow24
House Sparrow3
Vesper Sparrow2
Savannah Sparrow43
Song Sparrow8
Clay-colored Sparrow16
Common Grackle 58
Baird’s Sandpiper117
Red Knot3
European Starling7
American Robin10
Common Yellowthroat 12
Yellow Warbler 16
Grey Partridge 1
Sharp Tailed Grouse 4
Western Grebe 2
Rock Pigeon 2
Upland Sandpiper7
Wilson’s Snipe6
Northern Harrier3
Swainson’s Hawk 1
Least Flycatcher 6
Great Crested Flycatcher 1
Common Raven5
Sedge Wren 5
House Wren 2
Eastern Towhee1
Bobolink24
Baltimore Oriole 3
Orchard Oriole3
Brewers Blackbird41
Western Meadowlark 44
Peep sp.66
Hawk sp. 1
Swamp Sparrow1
Sandhill Crane54
Semipalmated Plover1
Marbled Godwit10
Franklin’s Gull44
Ring-billed Gull77
Ring-necked Duck1
Great Egret 2
Red-necked Phalarope 13
Spotted Sandpiper2
Red-headed Woodpecker1
Gray Catbird1
Canada Jay 1
Forster’s Tern 2
Red-eyed Vireo 1
Warbling Vireo1
Northern Flicker1
Belted Kingfisher1
Marsh Wren 3
Black-billed Magpie1
Northern Flicker1
Ferruginous Hawk2
Blue Jay 1
Eastern Phoebe 2
Nelson’s Sparrow1
Brown Thrasher 2
Cedar waxwing1
Lesser Scaup 3
Grasshopper Sparrow4
Total Species Identified 105

More Red-headed Woodpecker Volunteer Opportunities!

We have two opportunities coming up to monitor for the Endangered Red-headed woodpecker in Manitoba.

North, East and West Shoal Lakes IBA – Red-headed Woodpecker Blitz

This weekend we are holding our blitz for this species at North, East and West Shoal Lakes IBA. The blitz is taking place on Saturday, July 9th, 2022 starting at 7:00am. We are still looking for volunteers. If you are interested please email iba@naturemanitoba.ca. Carpooling may be able to be arranged and lunch will be provided at noon.

NEW! Oak Lake Plum Lake – Red-headed Woodpecker Blitz

Not to be left out, we will also be blitzing for Red-headed Woodpeckers in Oak Lakes/ Plum Lakes IBA in southwestern Manitoba. The blitz will take place on Saturday, July 23rd starting at 8:00am. If you are interested please email iba@naturemanitoba.ca. Carpooling may be able to be arranged and snacks and refreshments will be provided.

Upcoming Red-headed Woodpecker Blitz – Shoal Lakes IBA

Manitoba IBA’s second event of the season in eastern Manitoba is coming up! Join us on July 9th as we blitz the North, East and West Shoal Lakes IBA for the Red-headed Woodpecker. Last year we were able to find 19 Red-Headed Woodpeckers (with smaller surveys due to COVID-19) – enough individuals to reach the IBA threshold for this species, indicating that it is key habitat!

The blitz start time is 7:00 am, and at noon we will meet for snacks and refreshments in the town of Inwood. All birding skill levels are welcome and carpooling will be arranged to the best of our ability.